Barcelona old boy tipped to see off Martino for top job

Speculation is mounting in Catalonia that Luis Enrique is the clear frontrunner to succeed Tito Vilanova as manager of Barcelona.

A report on influential station TV3, which is headquartered less than a mile from Barca’s training ground, stated that Enrique is the club’s top choice.

Vilanova, who on Saturday night penned an open letter to supporters, stepped down on Friday night following a relapse in his cancer battle.

The Catalan broadcasters added that Barca are willing to meet Enrique’s €3million (Dh14.5m) release clause at Celta Vigo, as well as offering the services of their current assistant manager Rubi to take over at the Galician club.

Enrique made more than 300 appearances in a distinguished playing stint at the Camp Nou between 1996 and 2004, twice winning the La Liga championship in the process. He later returned to Barcelona as B team manager, succeeding Pep Guardiola when he was promoted to the position of first team coach in 2008.

Enrique enjoyed a great deal of success with the club’s second string, leading them to promotion into the second division before accepting an offer to take over at Italian giants Roma in 2011. He spent just one relatively disappointing season in the Italian capital and then had a year out of the game, before being appointed as new Celta Vigo manager shortly after the north-western club avoided relegation at the end of last season.

Martino in the frame?

However, a contradictory claim has been made by Marca, with Spain’s leading sports newspaper reporting that Barca have made contact with former Newell’s Old Boys coach Tata Martino, who left the Argentine club earlier this week after leading them to the semi-finals of this season’s Copa Libertadores, South America’s premier club competition.

Martino’s success at Newell’s – Lionel Messi’s first club before he moved to Spain as a teenager – has further enhanced his reputation as one of South America’s best coaches. He previously enjoyed a four-year stint in charge of the Paraguay national team, taking them to the last eight of the 2010 World Cup and the final of the following year’s Copa America.

Earlier this summer he was linked with the vacant managerial positions at Malaga and Real Sociedad, and the opportunity to link up with fellow Rosario native Messi would be hard to turn down for an ambitious man who has not yet coached in Europe.

Meanwhile, outgoing coach Vilanova has been showered with well-wishing messages following Friday’s shock announcement, led by his former players who were reportedly reduced to floods of tears when they were informed of their manager’s departure.

A posting by Messi on his Facebook page was typical of the sentiments, with the Argentine star simply stating: “Be strong, Tito! We are all with you in this battle.”

Gerard Pique tweeted: “You will suffer again, you will fight again and you will win again”, while Andres Iniesta added: “The important thing is the person now. Tito has been suffering for a long time. I hope it ends soon and I’m sure he’ll win this ugly battle.”

Vilanova’s open letter to fans

“Thank you Barca; thank you everyone,” he wrote.

“After five wonderful years as part of a team that has made dreams come true as a coach, the time has come to face a change in my professional life and to devote forces to continue the process of the disease that I was diagnosed a year and a half ago.

“In the opinion of the doctors and due to the treatment I have to follow, I can`t spend the time that a team like Barcelona would require as first coach to do my tasks, but I will keep on working very close to this club I love so much.

“It is not easy to leave this very special group of players, fellow staff and friends with whom I shared many memorable experiences. I`ll be eternally grateful for everything you have given to me and I have shown.

“The human quality and this football team can go through any obstacle and I am convinced that with its skills it will be able to face the challenges of a sports season which should be exciting for everyone.

“I also want to especially thank the Chairman, the Board and sporting director Andoni Zubizarreta for the confidence they gave to me and, above all, unconditional support, both sporting and personal.

“Equally important to me is the support I received both medically and humanely from Dr. Ramon Canal and his team of doctors who are at my side. I do not play this game alone, I`m a part of a supportive club that will help me succeed in this long process, as it has done until now.

“To all of you, members and fans of the club, I also want to thank your samples of support and affection that you had, not just now but over the last few months. I`m quiet, strong and I will face this new stage in the process of my illness with full confidence that everything is gonna be ok.

“Thank you to all football fans, colleagues in the profession, clubs, athletes and acquaintances for your messages of encouragement that comforted me and my family.

“These are difficult times for me and so I requested the media respect and comprehension. Once I stopped being the coach of the club, I hope to have the tranquility and privacy that me and my family need right now. ”

I cannot conclude this letter without wishing luck and every success to the new coach of the best team in the world.

“Thank you all.

“Tito Vilanova.”

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